This is the final instalment of Zygmunt Miłoszewski’s Szacki trilogy, each of them set in a different Polish city and each dealing with a separate social issue (the others being Entanglement – in Warsaw – and A Grain of Truth – in Sandomierz). Rage finds Prosecutor Teodor Szacki in Olsztyn in north-eastern Poland, once the German city of Allenstein, in what was East Prussia. The contrast between the older German architecture of Allenstein and the modern, brutalist buildings of Olsztyn is the backdrop to this tense thriller… that, and the dark, bleak, freezing drizzle of its winter climate.
Bleakness is the watchword: a young mother, who apparently has everything, but thinks her life worthless; endless frustrating traffic jams on the dank streets; a skeleton stripped of its flesh discovered in a rat-infested former German bunker; and a series of other violent and seemingly motiveless crimes. Szacki’s attempts to solve these crimes uncover the ‘rage’ of the title – a vicious murder and maimings that suggest someone is targeting the city’s wife-beaters, as well as Szacki’s own rage, as he finally comes face-to-face with the perpetrator.
Bleak it may be, but there are flashes of humour a-plenty to relieve the tension… the pathology professor, who resembles a mad scientist, with his
“steely gaze… beard trimmed like Lenin’s… and a bizarre medical gown with a mandarin collar and a row of buttons down each side like an officer’s greatcoat… All he needed was a pipe with a long stem and some amputated hands protruding from the pockets of his gown.
‘Frankenstein,’ he said in greeting.
The only thing missing was a clap of thunder.”
Meanwhile, his assistant “looked like she had just stepped off the set of a porno flick where they screw among the laboratory equipment…[her] high heels [were] so slender you could have pierced your ears with them.”
The story unfolds in TV-thriller style, with a roller-coaster ride of rapid scene-changes. The scene in the dissection room, where the curvaceous Alicja explains in precise and gut-wrenching detail how the flesh might – or might not – have been stripped from the skeleton in the bunker, is as compelling as it is revolting. Meanwhile, Szacki has not only a new partner and an increasingly unbiddable 16-year old daughter to deal with, but also Edmund Falk, his young assistant prosecutor – “stiff enough to put a porn star to shame”, whose every move and decision is “the only logical choice,” including the one to request Szacki be officially reprimanded for a minor, if misogynistic, error of judgment. As the pressure on Szacki mounts, the scene-changes build tension right to the climax, when the hunter becomes the hunted and the criminal moves against the prosecutor’s own family. In a shocking and quite unexpected turn of events, we understand why this is Szacki’s swansong. For me as a regular reader and reviewer of thrillers this one definitely stands out. An excellent read.
By Max Easterman
By Zygmunt Miłoszewski
Translated from the Polish by Antonia Lloyd-Jones
Published by Amazon Crossing (August 2016)
Max Easterman is a journalist – he spent 25 years as a senior broadcaster with the BBC – university lecturer, translator, media trainer with ‘Sounds Right’, jazz musician and writer.
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